Even with eight brothers and no camel — Joseph rocks.
The musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat lost none of its spectacle or pizzazz by being staged with a scaled-back cast on a smallish stage at The Matchbox on Thursday.
The opening night production was full of colourful costumes, great singing and inspired choreography.
Curtis Labelle should take a bow, for Labelle — who is not only the show’s director, but its set, costume and lighting designer, keyboardist and band conductor — has succeeded in bringing a long-held dream to life.
Labelle, a voice instructor who’s been involved in many local theatre productions, had wanted to stage this catchy Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical ever since being wowed by a Red Deer College production as a boy.
At the relatively callow age of 26, he made it happen by putting up his money and his time — as it turned out, four months of rehearsals were interrupted by casting upheavals, which saw the required 11 brothers reduced to eight.
Labelle persevered through adversity and made necessary adaptations, as there was no stage room for a camel, or the brothers’ 11 wives. He still managed to deliver one heck of an entertaining show.
From the first moments, when the children’s chorus and narrator Sabrina Notte introduced this Biblical tale of Joseph and his brothers, audience members knew they were in for something special.
Notte has a sweet, pitch-perfect voice and the children were more than cute — they can belt it out with the best of them.
Joseph was played by Clay Hitchcock as if he owned the part from Day One, instead of being thrust into the main role after two previous leads stepped down.
The resonant singer played Joseph as bright-eyed and naive as one would expect Jacob’s favorite son to be.
After all, this kid is too guileless to realize his jealous brothers find him so much of a suck-up/daddy’s boy that they are considering fratricide.
Instead of killing him, the brothers just rough Joseph up a little and sell him into slavery in Egypt.
Then, they pour goat’s blood on his coat-of-many-colours and tell their old man that his favorite son is dead.
This leads to the first laugh-out-loud number, One More Angel in Heaven, performed as a melodramatic cowpoke tune by the fraternal chorus, led by a cowboy hat-wearing Dustin Clark.
(Curtis was right not to be concerned about the brothers’ reduced number — these eight can certainly sing as if they were 11 — if not more.)
The musical picks up from there, as Joseph becomes a slave for a rich man named Potiphar, and the man’s evil wife attempts to seduce the comely slave boy.
The plot follows Joseph’s decline — as he’s thrown into jail on a false accusation of rape — and his eventual rise after he becomes the interpreter of the Pharaoh’s dreams.
But nothing, of course, is taken too seriously in this irreverent musical that draws from wide influences, including Harry Belafonte’s Caribbean tunes.
The Pharaoh is characteristically performed as an Elvis Presley impersonator, in this case by a white-jumpsuit clad Darren Hopwood with near Vegas-calibre hip gyrations.
The three female chorus members — Danielle Larose, Alex Mihill, and Karrianne Kinnear — do a fabulous job of dancing like Egyptians, or even The Supremes, when called for.
They certainly have as many wardrobe changes as Diana Ross — (and kudos to Silvana Notte for single-handedly constructing so many shiny costumes, designed by Labelle).
There were so many wonderful moments in Joseph, that it’s hard to pick a highlight.
If pressed, I’d say it was Those Canaan Days, performed as a French cabaret song, with heavy sighs and jaded nonchalance, by the fraternal chorus.
The tune was led by brother Justin Bronson, who no doubt learned his over-the-top French accent from Pepe Le Pew.
Even when things didn’t go exactly as planned — a slave boy lost his loin skirt and was left on stage in his boxers on Thursday — the wardrobe malfunction only seemed to enhance the Egyptian dance scene.
It goes to show that when you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and Labelle and his cast and crew certainly did. (Also terrific was the band: Harley Hay on drums, Nick Saik on guitar, Carl Stretton on bass and Labelle, again, on keyboards).
Like the title character in this musical, Labelle had a dream, and despite the odds, he made it come true.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat continues at The Matchbox in Red Deer until Aug. 29.
Tickets are available at (403) 341-6500.